No. 8 Baylor equestrian’s season ends in NCEA quarterfinals

No. 8 Baylor equestrian couldn't hold on to its lead, as it fell to No. 1 Southern Methodist University, 10-8, Thursday afternoon in the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Fla. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Michael Haag | Sports Editor

No. 8 Baylor equestrian knew what it needed to do in order to defeat its daunting top-ranked foe.

The Bears were poised to upset their No. 1-ranked opponent like they did in 2021 after leading 7-6 through three events, but they lost their edge at the worst time. No. 1 Southern Methodist University ended Baylor’s season, 10-8, in the NCEA quarterfinals Thursday at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida.

It marked SMU’s (11-1) third win over the Bears (6-10) this season, dating back to a pair of home-and-home contests during the regular season. Thursday’s defeat was also Baylor’s fifth loss of the season that came within a three-point margin of deficit.

“It was a really close meet, coming down to that last ride,” head coach Casie Maxwell said. “I’m really proud of how everybody rode across the board, from start to finish. … But just really proud of how all of these girls went in clear-minded, extremely confident and knew they could come out with a win today.”

The Mustangs had to compete from behind for most of the meet, as Baylor led 5-4 after two events and 7-6 after three. Senior Jumping Seat rider Dominika Silvestri capped off her stellar season with her 14th win of the year in Flat. She was the only Bear to go 2-0 on the Jumping Seat side Thursday, and her win became the most by a Bear in the program’s recorded history.

Silvestri said her two rides “started off strong” and that Maxwell helped ease her nerves before competing.

“Coach told us before we went in the ring that there was no pressure,” Silvestri said. “There was nothing to lose. I was a little nervous before that, but then she said that and I wasn’t nervous anymore.”

Baylor opened the contest up with a blazing start in Fences, as it won 3-1. Freshman Jumping Seat rider Lauren Reid scored a team-high 258, while Silvestri (245) and freshman Jumping Seat rider Lauren Jorgensen (227) also tallied points for the green and gold. Senior Jumping Seat rider Maddie Vorhies notched a season-high 261 and tied her point to cap off the opening event.

The Bears clung to their halftime lead following a 3-2 win for SMU in Reining. Senior Western riders Daisy Kaufman (211) and Andie Pratt (200.5) tallied more points for Baylor, as the squad led 5-4.

Shifting to the Flat arena, the Bears and Mustangs stayed even at two wins apiece after five rides. Silvestri (242) and junior Jumping Seat rider Madison Mitchell (241), both All-Americans, secured the points, while Reid (241) tied her head-to-head matchup. This kept Baylor ahead by one, 7-6, with the final event on the horizon.

The last event of the day sparked chaos, as there were three reviewed scores and a pair of re-rides. The Mustangs wound up snagging a 4-1 win in Horsemanship to complete the comeback victory, propelling them to the national semifinals on Friday. The Bears’ senior Western rider Elsie Naruszewicz (226.5) owned the solo tally for the team in the Horsemanship event.

Fifth-year senior Reining rider Madaline Callaway said her approach to the contest was “just to have fun,” since it had the potential to be her last hurrah in the green and gold.

“My goal was just to have fun, no pressure at all, and that’s what I went out and did,” Callaway said. “It was a good last ride. I’m so glad that I was able to experience my five years at Baylor.”

The Bears now turn the page to another season. There were 18 fourth and fifth-year seniors honored on Senior Day, but some of the fourth-year seniors may have the option of returning due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shortened the 2019-20 season.

Maxwell said the one word that could describe this 2022-23 equestrian season is “volatile.”

“We’ve had an incredibly hard schedule, which is what we want to do to set these athletes up to come play at this level,” Maxwell said. “They’ve risen to every challenge that we’ve asked them to. We’ve struggled throughout the year of getting all four events on the same page at the same time, but it’s never been a lack of confidence or a lack of effort or anything like that, just been some minor bumps along the way.

“We’re riding live equipment and we’re asking to be judged. There’s a lot of things we can’t control but we were very, very good today.”